Pakistani girls sold as brides to China

Sumaira, one of the many Pakistani women sold as brides in China, shows a picture of her husband in Gujranwala, Pakistan in this May 22, 2019 file photo. (AP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Pakistani girls sold as brides to China

  • List compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable
  • But investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt

LAHORE, Pakistan: Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. The list, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable.
The list gives the most concrete figure yet for the number of women caught up in the trafficking schemes since 2018.
But since the time it was put together in June, investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt. Officials with knowledge of the investigations say that is because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing.
The biggest case against traffickers has fallen apart. In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution for speaking out.
At the same time, the government has sought to curtail investigations, putting “immense pressure” on officials from the Federal Investigation Agency pursuing trafficking networks, said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped parents rescue several young girls from China and prevented others from being sent there.
“Some (FIA officials) were even transferred,” Iqbal said in an interview. “When we talk to Pakistani rulers, they don’t pay any attention. “
Asked about the complaints, Pakistan’s interior and foreign ministries refused to comment.
Several senior officials familiar with the events said investigations into trafficking have slowed, the investigators are frustrated, and Pakistani media have been pushed to curb their reporting on trafficking. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.
“No one is doing anything to help these girls,” one of the officials said. “The whole racket is continuing, and it is growing. Why? Because they know they can get away with it. The authorities won’t follow through, everyone is being pressured to not investigate. Trafficking is increasing now.”
He said he was speaking out “because I have to live with myself. Where is our humanity?”
China’s Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the list.
“The two governments of China and Pakistan support the formation of happy families between their people on a voluntary basis in keeping with laws and regulations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for and resolutely fighting against any person engaging in illegal cross-border marriage behavior,” the ministry said in a statement faxed Monday to AP’s Beijing bureau.
An AP investigation earlier this year revealed how Pakistan’s Christian minority has become a new target of brokers who pay impoverished parents to marry off their daughters, some of them teenagers, to Chinese husbands who return with them to their homeland. Many of the brides are then isolated and abused or forced into prostitution in China, often contacting home and pleading to be brought back. The AP spoke to police and court officials and more than a dozen brides — some of whom made it back to Pakistan, others who remained trapped in China — as well as remorseful parents, neighbors, relatives and human rights workers.
Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers, mostly from small evangelical churches, who get bribes to urge their flock to sell their daughters. Investigators have also turned up at least one Muslim cleric running a marriage bureau from his madrassa, or religious school.
Investigators put together the list of 629 women from Pakistan’s integrated border management system, which digitally records travel documents at the country’s airports. The information includes the brides’ national identity numbers, their Chinese husbands’ names and the dates of their marriages.
All but a handful of the marriages took place in 2018 and up to April 2019. One of the senior officials said it was believed all 629 were sold to grooms by their families.
It is not known how many more women and girls were trafficked since the list was put together. But the official said, “the lucrative trade continues.” He spoke to the AP in an interview conducted hundreds of kilometers from his place of work to protect his identity. “The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees ($25,000 and $65,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($1,500), is given to the family,” he said.
The official, with years of experience studying human trafficking in Pakistan, said many of the women who spoke to investigators told of forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse and, in some cases, forced prostitution. Although no evidence has emerged, at least one investigation report contains allegations of organs being harvested from some of the women sent to China.
In September, Pakistan’s investigation agency sent a report it labeled “fake Chinese marriages cases” to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The report, a copy of which was attained by the AP, provided details of cases registered against 52 Chinese nationals and 20 of their Pakistani associates in two cities in eastern Punjab province — Faisalabad, Lahore — as well as in the capital Islamabad. The Chinese suspects included the 31 later acquitted in court.
The report said police discovered two illegal marriage bureaus in Lahore, including one operated from an Islamic center and madrassa — the first known report of poor Muslims also being targeted by brokers. The Muslim cleric involved fled police.
After the acquittals, there are other cases before the courts involving arrested Pakistani and at least another 21 Chinese suspects, according to the report sent to the prime minister in September. But the Chinese defendants in the cases were all granted bail and left the country, say activists and a court official.
Activists and human rights workers say Pakistan has sought to keep the trafficking of brides quiet so as not to jeopardize Pakistan’s increasingly close economic relationship with China.
The demand for foreign brides in China is rooted in that country’s population, where there are roughly 34 million more men than women — a result of the one-child policy that ended in 2015 after 35 years, along with an overwhelming preference for boys that led to abortions of girl children and female infanticide.

US intensifying plans to move military assets from Incirlik to Greece

Updated 32 min 9 sec ago

US intensifying plans to move military assets from Incirlik to Greece

  • The US is considering Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete as an alternative to Incirlik
  • Erdogan has also threatened to kick the US military off Incirlik air base if Congress imposes sanctions on Turkey

NEW YORK: The US is exploring plans to relocate some of its important assets from the Incirlik air base in Turkey to Greece.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will discuss such proposals on his visit to Souda Bay, a US naval facility on the northern shores of the Geek island of Crete.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee for Europe, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Jonson, had already mentioned earlier in September that the US is considering Souda Bay as an alternative to Incirlik.

Jonson told the Washington Examiner that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “disturbing” foreign policy has spurred American officials to intensify preparations to withdraw from Incirlik.

“It’s very concerning, which is one of the reasons (we) certainly are improving our military cooperation with Greece ... beefing up our presence in Souda Bay, because our presence, quite honestly, in Turkey is certainly threatened,” said Jonson.

Pompeo’s visit to Greece, the second to the region this month, comes as tensions in the eastern Mediterranean are at an all-time high between Greece and Cyprus on the one hand, and Turkey on the other.

Last year, Ankara signed a maritime accord with Libya’s Government of National Accord and sent its vessels, accompanied by the military, to begin gas exploration operations in areas of the Mediterranean that Greece considers part of its economic zone.

Disputes over rights to energy resources have raised concerns that they could escalate into open conflict.

The rebasing plans come at a time when Turkey has become an “increasingly unreliable NATO ally and partner to the US,” Paul Gadalla, a Washington DC-based analyst focused on the eastern Mediterranean who worked at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Arab News.

Erdogan decided last year, against strong objections from American and other NATO allies, to buy the sophisticated Russian S-400 air defense system.

“It’s unprecedented for a NATO member to make such a big weapons purchase from basically an enemy country,” said Gadalla.

Erdogan has also threatened to kick the US military out of the Incirlik air base if Congress imposes sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian weapons.

“Pompeo is now telling Erdogan, ‘You know what? If you want to kick us out, we have an alternative’,” said Gadalla.

“Greece is more than willing and prepared to take on the role of the new, reliable partner. The Greeks are looking for a way to gain more diplomatic leverage over Turkey. They know Turkey wouldn’t attack US troops in Greece.”

For a decade, Greece had been mired in an economic crisis. It had a far-left government that was at loggerheads with the EU.

Now, Gadalla said, “Athens is really trying to bolster its reputation and prove that it’s a stable force in the eastern Mediterranean. It’s also looking for diplomatic support to protect its energy and geopolitical interests. Greece is also looking to expand its ties with the US in hopes of getting new weapons to revamp its military.”

He added: “The US, for its part, sees a major opportunity in Greece as well. As the country is in the process of privatizing its ports, the US is trying to limit China from buying those ports.”

The Chinese already own a controlling stake in the Port of Piraeus in Athens, one of the busiest Mediterranean ports.

China and Russia have been pushing to gain more influence in the region. Their endeavors are likely to intensify to fill the void that would be left by a possible American withdrawal from Incirlik.

Taking over the air base would “give Russia an even bigger bridgehead in the eastern Mediterranean to increase its presence,” said Gadalla.